VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AND GIRLS IN THE CONTEXT OF COVID-19

‘For many women and girls, the threat looms largest where they should be safest. In their homes’ Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General

Since the outbreak of coronavirus pandemic, South Africa has seen a surge in domestic violence, particularly Gender-based violence in most parts of the country.

Gender-based violence (GBV) is a profound and widespread problem in South Africa, impacting on almost every aspect of life. It is systemic and deeply entrenched in institutions, cultures and traditions in the country.

According to the Bill of Rights, as enshrined in the South African Constitution, every citizen has the inalienable right to life, equality, human dignity and privacy. And yet, gender-based violence persist in our society. Through our collective efforts we can create greater awareness; reduce the number of offences on women and children.

The President Cyril Ramaphosa in his recent address to the Nation spoke strongly on gender-based violence (GBV) and alcohol abuse. He did not mince his words on the scale of the problem.

‘It is with heaviest of hearts that I stand before the women and girls of South Africa this evening to talk about another pandemic that is raging in our country-killing of women and children by men of our country.

‘As man, as a husband and as a father, I am appalled at what is no less than a war being waged against women and children of our country.’

He said the reprieve in violence against women brought by lockdown has not lasted and it was especially disappointing that the violence increased when the ban on alcohol was lifted.

According to police, violent crime especially murders and attempted murders has increased since level 3 took effect on June 1.

In the last few weeks, 21 women and children have been murdered. Since December, 10 government owned buildings have been handed over to the Department of Social Development to be used as shelters. There are now over 1000 survivors’ friendly rooms at police stations.

A survivor recently told local press how she survived a series of domestic violence – from sexual to physical abuse at the hands of man.

‘At the age of 20, I was gang raped by three men when I was coming from church. While still recovering from that at the age of 30, I found a man who made who made me believe that I was his property. I lived in his bubble,’ she said.

‘The thing with being a victim is that the perpetrator knows which buttons to press. He would beat me up then apologize, claiming not to know what was controlling him.’ ‘And because I loved him, I forgave him. He would do it every time he was drunk and ‘forget’ that he hurt me.

‘I knew I had to escape after seeing many women die. I grew up thinking I had a magnet for abusive men. Gender-based violence is a real thing and people die from this.’

Former Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba has called for the reinstatement of the death penalty to solve the gender-based violence scourge.

South Africa has one of the highest rates of violence against women on the entire continent, with a rate five times the global average, according to a 2015 study by the South African Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation.

Counselling and narrative therapies help survivors to regain strength. Phola is in the frontline providing psychosocial remedies, mental health and counselling services to women affected by domestic violence. It has been observed that physical distancing is helping contain COVID-19, but it is also isolating women and girls from the support of family, friends and resources when they experience violence at home.

The Gender Based Violence Guiding Principles include ensuring the safety of GBV survivor, ensuring confidentiality, respecting the GBV survivor and practicing non- discrimination.

Phola rapid response mechanisms O.U.T.T.R.A.G.E.D. and COURRAGE are developed to mitigate and ameliorate pain endured by women and girls’ survivors of Gender-based violence.

Also, the strategies target men and boys viewing them not as perpetrators of GBV, but as significant contributors to bringing about change and mind set.

-The first line of prevention is education.

COURRAGE is a collective narrative way of working which has been developed to privilege the alternative stories of women who have faced significant hardships. It seeks to honour the strengths, skills and courage that women show and use in the face of sorrow and grief.

The other methodology O.U.T.T.R.A.G.E.D. a narrative therapy framework for men and boys and is for application in the prevention of Gender Based Violence. It is effective and appropriate in mitigating against the increase in domestic violence mostly perpetrated by men against women.

It facilitates conversations with men and boys for prevention of Gender Based Violence.

The framework is mostly for awareness raising, behavior change and development of personal agency among men and boys to support them live preferred lives that counter identities dominated by anger and violence.

The highly extensive and interactive sessions are part of narrative or story telling approach which seeks to change negative attitudes and behaviors among men and boys at risk of perpetrating violence particularly GBV.

The framework also supports men and boys to become community champions and agents of social justice in the prevention of Gender-based violence.

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